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Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his first-period goal against the Chicago Blackhawks at Consol Energy Center on September 28, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Justin K. Aller/2010 Getty Images

When Dan Bylsma was shown the plans for the Pittsburgh Penguins' quarters in their new $321-million (all currency U.S.) arena, he decided it was time to draw the line.

Yes, the Penguins were moving across the street from the oldest and worst rink in the NHL, the Mellon Arena, to the glitziest (and from a middling-revenue franchise to a likely spot in the top 10), but this was too much. The dressing room, weight room, showers and change rooms were a little too luxurious, so the head coach ordered the weight room to be scaled back.

"When it came to the weight room, we made an effort to make it a place of work, not just a place you want to buy a membership to for 250 bucks a month," Bylsma said.

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He also might have been thinking his players needed a reminder that life is not all luxury, given that the Penguins went from winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 to getting bounced in the second round of the 2010 playoffs by goaltender Jaroslav Halak and the upstart Montreal Canadiens.

Luxury and bells and whistles are the operative terms when it comes to the Consol Energy Center, not to mention attention to numbers. Capacity is 18,087, an homage to Sidney Crosby's number, and the original plan was for 66 private suites, a tribute to co-owner Mario Lemieux. But when the suites sold out quickly, some extra space was found and two more were built, bringing the total to 68, the number of former superstar Jaromir Jagr, who is still persona non grata after a bitter departure over money years ago. The arena is full of high-definition television screens for the fans, 800 in all, capped by the largest high-definition scoreboard video screen in the league.

"I'm going to worry about my hair more when I look up," Bylsma said.

Not bad for a team that endured two bankruptcies and was on the verge of moving to either Kansas City or Las Vegas before three levels of government agreed on a financing plan in March of 2007. In that plan, $15-million of the nearly $20-million annual financing cost came from casino profits, and the rest from the Penguins.

"It was really close," said the man in charge of the arena project, Penguins vice-president Travis Williams. "Kansas City put an offer on the table. Vegas put an offer on the table. It was only when we got to that point [the governments]said, let's stop playing games and get a deal."

But if Bylsma was worried that his players would find it easy to forget their relatively quick exit from the playoffs in such luxurious surroundings, he can relax. Several of them live in Montreal during the off-season and had to endure jabs from their friends. "Oh yeah, every day," defenceman Kris Letang said.

On the ice, the Penguins have to deal with the loss of defenceman Sergei Gonchar, the quarterback of their power play, to free agency. But the key to getting back to the Stanley Cup final this season, Bylsma says, is at the other end of the ice.

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"We want to be a better defending team, to be a team that can win a 1-0 or 2-1 game or when we get a lead in the third period, we have the mentality we can clamp down," Bylsma said. "[Free-agent defencemen]Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek are two guys who help our defence, strengthen our ability to defend, mostly with their skating ability but also to get out of our defensive zone."

Martin, Letang and second-year defenceman Alex Goligoski will be given chances to take over Gonchar's role on the power play. Up front, the offence will, as usual, be powered by Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who will play on the same line in the hope that Malkin can shake off a relatively poor 2009-10 season.

"You know what? We didn't deserve to win last [season]" Crosby said. "As long as you learn from those things, that's the most important thing. You've got to move on."

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

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